charter schools

Charter schools in Memphis owe Shelby County Schools more than $1 million

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson aims to increase the district's four-year graduation rate from 75 percent to 90 percent by 2025.

Since 2009, actual charter school enrollment in Memphis has been below what the schools had projected before school started.

Those overly optimistic projections on the part of a few charter schools, and unpaid fees for utilities, rent, retirement, and other services on the part of a dozen more, mean Shelby County Schools is now owed more than $1.6 million by charter school operators.

Shelby County superintendent Dorsey Hopson II informed the district’s board during a work session last week that the district plans to ask the state for permission to collect that money back from charter schools in the city.

The W.E.B. Dubois Charter Consortium, run by former Memphis superintendent and mayor Willie Herenton, and City University, run by the Influence I Foundation, received money for hundreds of students who did not attend their schools. The two organizations owe the district a combined $867,000 due to the enrollment variance.

Last year, projected enrollment in charters in the district was 10,919, while only 8,769 students attended the publicly-funded, independently-run schools. In each of the previous three years, charter schools had overestimated on average by between 650 and 700 students.

The City Boys Prep, City University Girls Prep, Freedom Preparatory, Grizzlies Prep, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle, MAHS Middle, MASE, the Memphis School of Excellence, Power Center Middle, Promise Academy, and Veritas charter schools also owe the district money, either for insurance, retirement, rent, or utilities.

The district plans to deduct a ninth of the fee owed to the district from each charter school in coming months in 2014.

According to the Commercial Appeal, Shelby County Schools has reached an agreement with former mayor Herenton’s schools to address the overprojected enrollment for last year, which includes a school for juvenile offenders at Northside High that closed midyear.

Approximately $78 million will be spent on charter schools this year to educate an estimated 11,824 students, according to projections. The district has approximately 111,000 students overall.

In addition to the $1.6 owed by district-sponsored charters, the state-run Achievement School District owes the school district approximately $703,000, for services including special education, alternative education, insurance, and transportation.

At last week’s board meeting, commissioner Chris Caldwell said there was an incentive for charter schools to inflate enrollment projections. Charter schools receive funding from the district for each child they’re projected to enroll. “I don’t think it’s unfair to make sure they make more accurate projections,” he said.

Board chair Kevin Woods said the district was considering creating a “compact” with its charter schools, which would encourage them to collaborate more with the district.

View the complete list of which schools owe the district money here.

Fixing Special Education

Advocates say survey shows special education reform in Chicago has been slow, underresourced

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
Chris Yun, an educational policy analyst with the disabilities rights group Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, speaks at a press conference about the survey.

Despite the state taking over Chicago schools’ troubled program for special-needs students, both education services and communication with parents remain woefully lacking, advocates for families alleged Monday.

The groups, including Equip for Equality, Parents 4 Teachers, Access Living and Raise Your Hand, released a survey of 800 parents and teachers that indicated that the Illinois State Board of Education’s reforms have fallen far short of its promises, six months after a state probe found Chicago schools violated students’ rights by routinely delaying and denying services, such as  speech and occupational therapy, busing, classroom aides,.

There continues to be no remediation plan for the thousands of students who were illegally denied services,” said attorney Olga Pribyl, who heads Equip for Equality’s special education clinic.

Representatives of the state board and Chicago Public Schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Advocates called on Illinois governor-elect J.B. Pritzker to commit more resources to monitor assigned to oversee Chicago special-education reforms. The office has three staff members, half the number advocates had requested. “We are asking Pritzker and his transition team to recognize the critical need to reform special education at CPS,” said Chris Yun, an educational policy analyst with the disabilities rights group Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Three out of four respondents reported knowing of one or more students not receiving services because a service provider was unavailable due to staffing shortages. Special education teachers were the most unavailable service provider, followed by paraprofessionals and nurses.
  • Many parents don’t know what changes the monitor has initiated. About three-fourths of respondents had not heard about the school district’s monthly parent trainings about the rights of special education students. While about 60 percent knew of changes tied to the state’s investigation in special education in Chicago, but fewer than 10 percent had seen the  new policy guidelines.
  • About two in three parents who have attended meetings designed to map out their child’s school services — known as an Individualized Education Program —  this year reported they weren’t given a draft of the plan five days in advance of the meetings as required.
  • About 80 percent of teachers and staff reported that IEP meetings neglected to mention compensatory services for students whose services were delayed or denied.

Natasha Carlson, a K-4 teacher who co-chairs the special education committee at the Chicago Teachers Union, said the survey results represent a broader failure by the school district and monitor to ensure students with disabilities are protected.

“This is most likely the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

You can read the full survey report below.

Tale the teacher

Watch: This Detroit teacher is ‘no longer trying to fit’ others’ idea of what a teacher looks like

Torrie Anderson, a teacher at Detroit's Davis Aerospace Technical High School, participated in a teacher storytelling event called Tale the Teacher on October 6, 2018.

Torrie Anderson doesn’t think she looks like a teacher.

Over the years, as she’s taught English in district and charter schools in and around Detroit, she’s gotten pushback from administrators who wanted her to dress more conservatively, or to cover her tattoos.

But now, Anderson said, “I realize that the way I look has no impact on my effectiveness as a teacher.”

Anderson was one of four educators who told their stories on stage at the Lyft Lounge at Musictown Detroit as part of the Tale the Teacher storytelling event last month. Chalkbeat, which co-sponsored the event, has been publishing videos of the storytellers.

So far, we’ve published the video of one teacher who views teaching as a way to bring about social change.

Another teacher talked of using rap to excite his students about science.

Anderson recalled a story from her first job out of college when, working in a charter school, a principal scolded her for wearing shorts that revealed too much leg at a school football game.

“I cried the entire way home,” she said.

“I remember being told that I was a unicorn in a profession full of elephants,” she said. “I was told that I needed to find a way to be an elephant/unicorn hybrid, as if such a thing could even possibly exist.”

The elephant and unicorn figurines she bought after that incident have followed her through four schools to her current job at Detroit’s Davis Aerospace Technical High School. Both are still sitting on her desk, she said.

But now, she plans to get rid of the elephant “because I’m a f—ing unicorn and I’m no longer trying to fit into anyone’s idea of what a teacher should look like.”

Watch Anderson’s story below but note that, in addition to not trying to look like a teacher, she’s not trying to sound like one either. In this story, she uses quite a bit of profanity.

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